The Spice Trail Review: Very Vanilla..

THE SPICE TRAIL: Thursday 3rd March, BBC2, 9pm ALERT ME

As you’d expect, this programme about Vanilla and Saffron is gentle fare, but those who have grown to love Kate Humble’s meandering travelogue over the last couple of weeks will have become used to the slow and charming pace of this spice road trip. But that woman’s laugh

This week’s journey starts up in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, with the ever affable Kate visiting the Berber people, whose main source of income is growing, harvesting and selling of Saffron – the world’s most expensive spice. One Kilo of this red gold can sell for £4,000 (making it nearly as expensive as petrol!) but to get that much you have to harvest 200,000 flowers, a task beyond the means of this little community. We are also unsurprised to learn that even if these people could harvest such quantities, they wouldn’t get anywhere near it’s true value. Middle-men, Western capitalists etc.

Such ‘injustice’ is far from earth-shattering news, but it is remarkable to see Kate and her guide visit the village ‘store house’ – an incredible structure carved out of the face of a cliff, like something straight out of Indiana Jones. This is where the village people keep all their cash, saffron and any other valuables they have lying about. Frankly, it looks an awful lot more intimidating than your local branch of HSBC.
On to Spain next, and in amongst the windmills of La Mancha which inspired Don Quixote, we find that this region is the largest exporter of Saffron in the world.

Unfortunately, by this point, Kate Humble’s incessant enthusiasm is beginning to get rather grating and the urge to wipe the smile of her face by any means necessary becomes almost overwhelming. Nevertheless, you grit your teeth as chirpy Kate keeps on grinning while she attends a Saffron festival, tries a blind tasting of the spice and meets a chap from the University of Albacete who tells her about fake Saffron and Saffron DNA.

By the time we get to the last section concerning Mexican vanilla and the Cortez-led Spanish conquest of the country, Humble’s constant braying reaches fever pitch – which is a shame because it is actually the most interesting section of the entire documentary.